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Comment: State providing help to family dementia caregivers

The Daily Herald - 5/11/2024

By Brad Forbes / For The Herald

The burden of Alzheimer's diease and other dementias weighs heavily on Washington family caregivers and those across the country, according to the recently released Alzheimer's Association 2024 Alzheimer's Disease Facts and Figures report.

In Washington alone, 247,000 family members and friends provide 378 million hours of unpaid care valued at $9.499 million each year. Washington dementia caregivers also report significant emotional, physical and health-related challenges as a result of caregiving, including:

• At least one chronic condition (61 percent);

• Depression (39 percent);

• Frequent poor health (18 percent).

Caring for someone living with dementia is especially demanding. The average life expectancy following an Alzheimer's diagnosis is four to eight years, but some individuals can live with the disease longer, up to 20 years. As disease-related symptoms worsen, caregiving responsibilities intensify. Over time, caregivers can experience increased emotional and physical stress, making it more difficult to care for their loved ones.

The cost of caregiving is also a major stressor. The lifetime cost of caring for someone with dementia is estimated at nearly $400,000 with 70 percent of this cost borne by family caregivers. It's a financial burden for which very few families are prepared.

Dozens of family caregivers along with local staff from the Alzheimer's Association visited with Washington state legislators to share their experience, concerns and ask for additional support for the 140,000 people in Washington living with the disease. Our voices were heard. The state budget signed this year by Gov. Jay Inslee provides key funding and policy changes to help those living with the disease and their families

This includes Senate Bill 5825 that improves access to guardianship services. The bill expands the capacity of the Office of Public Guardianship, which serves the most vulnerable adults in our state, and requires the Administrative Office of the Courts to provide dementia training to certified public guardians.

The budget also includes funding for a new position within the Department of Health to coordinate with other agencies that have dementia programming or initiatives. This helps health care and social service professionals get access to the most up-to-date, evidence-based information and strategies to make timely diagnoses and develop treatment and care plans.

In addition, the new budget expands the Dementia Friends Program to all Washington counties. Dementia Friends is a public awareness and anti-stigma program that teaches the public about dementia and the importance of a diagnosis.

The Alzhwimer's Association and its constituents applaud the Legislature and Gov. Inslee's support to ensure all Washington families facing a dementia diagnosis receive the right care and services at the right time in their journey.

Brad Forbes is the public policy director for the Alzheimer's Association Washington Chapter.

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